The morning began with Peter Rowan playing on The Porch with members of Tony Rice’s Unit Band. Peter, looking very dapper in his seersucker suit, moved straight to the main stage to play with his full band, while David Grisman and his Sextet took their place on The Porch. The Tony Rice Unit followed Peter Rowan on the main stage, joined at the end of their set by Grisman, who then took over the whole stage to close out the afternoon there.
In the meantime, Larry Keel and Natural Bridge were playing the Hill Holler stage, and were followed up there by the Del McCoury band!
We did a LOT of running back and forth to make sure we saw everyone, dodging thunder, lightning and intermittent showers, none of which seemed to matter to anyone (except Milo and his camera equipment) one bit.
I’d only seen Tony Rice one other time, last year at The Festy in Nelson County, (that’s the Infamous Stringduster’s own festival, and this year’s line-up for which can be found at www.thefesty.com. I am digressing, but The Festy is in many ways a smaller and younger version of FloydFest as it attracts similar talent and is equally well run, and we’ll be there later this year!) and he played a lot, but didn’t really provide a lot of commentary, which was sure not the case at Floyd! When Grisman joined him onstage Tony introduced him by saying “This man and I started a damn revolution in 1975!” There was a lot of love on stage, not just there, but across the entire festival grounds on Sunday, it felt like I’d been invited to a reunion of really good old friends.
Ever since meeting Mr. Del McCoury at his festival this spring, I have a real appreciation for what a consummate performer and professional he is. They played a number of Bill Monroe tunes and said that they’ve got their Bill Monroe “dedication” album down to 11-12 songs now that are mixed but not mastered and that they expect to have it out in time for Monroe’s birthday in September. They played one of my favorites, Body and Soul.
Can I wax philosophical for a moment? Body and Soul is an interesting way to think about what my first FloydFest (and certainly not my last) meant to me. There is by now a huge body of bluegrass music, and about half of the performers this weekend were in attendance to perform their original contributions for us in person. The other half of the performers, however, and there was a VERY wide range, drew from that library, injected their own soul and spun out new, sometimes very different, but without argument, all very talented interpretations based somehow on the bluegrass classics. I spent a lot of time this weekend thinking about the connections between all of these different artists. The Under the Radar series is such a great way to hear new artists, not all of which are “bluegrass” but if you dig down deep enough, there is always a connection. As Eric Miller (front man of one of this year’s contestants, Wilmington based L Shape Lot, which are described as new/blue/country grass) said to me “Well….if you like a little twang in your bluegrass, then you’ll like us.” I do, and I did.
When I came back to work, my colleagues wanted to know what kind of music festival I had attended, and I hesitated to give an immediate answer. Two things happened this weekend that shaped what is now an epiphany for me. First, as you walk into the venue, on the hill are four 10 foot tall letters that spell “LOVE.”
Second, I bumped into Stringdusters banjo player Chris Pandolfi who, as he told me, was just “taking the weekend off and hanging out.” To paraphrase him from his earlier treatise this year on the current state of bluegrass, “maybe one shouldn’t try to define bluegrass at all, maybe we should just define a new spirit of openness and let all the related music speak for itself.”
Was FloydFest a bluegrass festival? Yes. But more than that, it was a Love OF bluegrass festival, and that was just really really cool.